5 Inspirational REALTOR® Leaders

by Carolyn Schwaar

Inspirational leadership takes many forms. There are courageous leaders, compassionate leaders, and motivational leaders; those who lead by example, those who innovate, and those who facilitate. So when REALTOR® AE magazine asked to hear about your inspirational 2009 elected leader, it’s not surprising that the nearly 30 stories we received were as remarkable as they were varied. We hope you enjoy getting to know these five inspirational leaders who are making a difference among their fellow REALTORS®, bettering their communities, and improving their local marketplaces.

Steve Havig
2009 President, Minneapolis Area Association of REALTORS®; President, Lakes Area Realty of Minneapolis


Vicki Fullerton
2009 Chair of the Board, Houston Association of REALTORS®; Broker-associate, RE/MAX The Woodlands & Spring


David E. Hanna
2009 President, Chicago Association of REALTORS®; Managing Partner, Prudential SourceOne Realty


Doug Groppenbacher
2009 President, Scottsdale Area Association of REALTORS®, Ariz.; RE/MAX Commercial Investment


Beth McGeorge
2009 President, Jefferson City Area Board of REALTORS®, Mo.; Agent, RE/MAX Jefferson City


>Steve Havig: Selfless Leadership

It takes a special kind of leader to turn his inaugural celebration into a “Membership Appreciation Week,” where members are literally served by their elected leaders—aprons, plastic gloves, and all. Steve Havig is a special leader, and a selfless one, too.

“I didn’t want any type of a hoopla deal,” he explains. “The hoopla was for the volunteers and for the REALTOR® of the Year.”

Not one to be enticed by the trappings of leadership, Havig routinely turns down some of the Minneapolis Area Association of REALTORS®’ spendier networking events, preferring to channel funds toward events that benefit a larger portion of the membership.

In fact, Havig has initiated substantial budget shifts to move funds from “sacred cows” to new programs designed to help members through the economic slump: Where once there were golf events, now there are educational events. Emphasizing the timeliness and broad reach of events was just a start. By using his personal contacts, Havig was able to find sponsors to defray the costs of meetings and retreats, making them free to all board members and volunteers. “They’re giving their time and energy to the board; they shouldn’t have to pay,” he says.

Outside of the association, Havig is making his mark, too. A prolific media star, championing the “now is a great time to buy” campaign, he’s fast becoming the default real estate voice for the entire Minneapolis–St. Paul metropolitan area. In an average month, Havig conducts four to seven interviews for print, radio, and TV, and, according to association communication director Greg Sax, has an acute awareness of the issues facing today’s real estate market. “There are some nights that his face can’t be escaped while flipping channels,” Sax quips with admiration.

Havig’s very first media interview, just weeks after he took office, was on a live Sunday morning television news show. “It was very exciting to be the spokesperson for the industry and be able to turn negative talk about the market into a positive story.”

It’s not just his media savvy (and near ubiquity) that makes Havig’s leadership exceptional, it’s his ability to leverage the collective wisdom of volunteers and to assign the right person to the right task, whether that person is from within the association or his broader network. “He’s quick to pick up a phone and call upon his vast network or to pull a number from his ‘Brownberry,’ a complex leather wallet that contains much of his world,” remarks Sax.

As a do-as-I-do leader, it’s fitting that Havig’s advice to other presidents echoes his actions: “Look for nonconflicting value-add partners. Be willing to go outside the association to find people who can help with certain projects and build on your relationships.”

> Vicki Fullerton: Courage and Optimism

In challenging economic times, every association needs a self-professed cheerleader and advocate for the strength of the real estate industry.

As someone who believes that 2009 is the best year to be a REALTOR® association leader—not despite the recession, but because of it—Vicki Fullerton, ABR, CRS, EPRO, is meeting both of those needs for the Houston Association of REALTORS®.

“Houston is not going to participate in the recession,” Fullerton says with resolve. “We’re going to lead Texas out of the recession, and Texas will lead the nation.”

It’s easy to mistake Fullerton’s optimism for denial, but even though she trumpets messages aimed at boosting consumer confidence, she’s fully aware of the current economic realities. “I’m a realistic optimist,” she explains. “One thing members will get from me is the truth.”

Fullerton shares her positive outlook on the local real estate market in a weekly column for the Sunday Houston Chronicle real estate section and through regular interviews with local and national media outlets.
When she’s not making inroads with the media, Fullerton is reevaluating the ways in which the association can fill service gaps left by real estate companies. They’ve already introduced several new programs and products for members at little or no cost, and continue to develop offerings at a break-neck pace. “Under her chairmanship, HAR has refocused on providing value to our members during somewhat uncertain times,” says association CEO Bob Hale. “She truly believes in giving REALTORS® the tools that will elevate their careers.”

It’s quite fitting, then, that Fullerton’s leadership theme is “Good to Go,” encapsulating the sentiment that HAR is focused on preparing members for any situation and providing them the tools and services required to be successful in their business.

Part of that preparedness is the willingness and ability to get involved in politics. Widely respected for her political activism, Fullerton can often be heard saying, “If real estate is your profession, then politics is your business!” Seems the message has gotten through. Under her leadership, PAC contributions and political involvement have come to be viewed as important components of REALTORS®’ business, reflects Hale.
This year, a record 150 REALTORS® took part in the Texas legislative visits and 200 members went to the Washington, D.C., Capitol Hill visits with state representatives and senators. “I was so proud to see them,” says Fullerton, who was inducted in to the RPAC “Hall of Fame” in May. “I felt they got it.”

As a leader, Fullerton has given the gift of her unyielding optimism and activism to HAR. What has she taken away from her experience? “I’ve learned that leadership requires passion, persistence, honesty, and openness. People will help you if they believe in you.”

> Dave Hanna: Talk and Action

It is doubtful that the Chicago Association of REALTORS® has ever had a president who so embodied the association’s mission statement: to be the voice of real estate in Chicago.

In just the first half of his presidential year, David Hanna conducted more than 200 media interviews. When he’s not talking to the press, he’s championing the association and its members to other organizations, community groups, government agencies, and homebuyers and homesellers.

“My media appearances haven’t done anything for my business,” Hanna jokes. “I haven’t had anyone say, ‘I saw your name in The Wall Street Journal and I want to hire you.’” Nevertheless, he goes to great lengths to reach out to the media because, he says, “having a platform to express REALTORS®’ views on what’s best for the industry and homeowners is a humbling responsibility and opportunity.”

Hanna has lent an impassioned voice to CAR’s membership as it faces a challenging market. With his knowledge and charisma, he has informed the media’s grasp of industry issues and helped to debunk widespread misconceptions. “An engaged listener, he is open to the concerns of colleagues and works tirelessly to advocate on their behalf—specifically in using the media to convey to the general public CAR’s key messages: the importance of using a REALTOR®; and why, in this particular market, it’s a good time to buy property,” says Barbara Matthopoulos, the association’s senior director of communications and media relations.

Hanna’s high visibility in the media and the community may be one of the reasons more highly accomplished members have applied for volunteer leadership positions at the association.

“The day we completed the nomination process for next year’s leaders was one of my best days as president,” says Hanna. “We’ve been focused on finding talent for the last several years to serve, especially leadership, and this year we had some outstanding people interview. It was a pleasure to think we actually made a difference.”

Hanna’s member outreach advocating association involvement targets every segment of the membership. “We’re very focused on diversity,” he says. The goal is a board of directors that is diverse in the size of brokerages it represents, as well as in age, race, ethnicity, and economic status.

Although highly accomplished, diverse volunteers are a great foundation, they need to be thoughtfully placed to be truly effective. “When you find people who are very passionate about one thing, you put them on a task force and allow them to have some control and to have their own goals,” says Hanna. “That kind of latitude attracts better people. It attracts independent thinkers.”

Perhaps more so than all of Hanna’s media appearances, his keen appreciation for the unique role that each member plays—and has played over time—in contributing to the association’s success, is what makes him such a great leader. “This association isn’t going to exist on its own. You have to contribute,” Hanna reminds members. “We’re part of something that was created by a great many people. There wouldn’t be the business or the industry there is today if it wasn’t for the people who shaped it.”

> Doug Groppenbacher: Passion for People

If Doug Groppenbacher, CCIM, CIPS, wasn’t the 2009 president of the Scottsdale Area Association of REALTORS®, Ariz., he might be the president of a charity or a community service organization. His passion is for helping people in need.

“I had parents who said, ‘You don’t exist on this earth alone. If you have a personal capability, apply it,’” says Groppenbacher, who uses his extraordinary leadership skills in many ways to support his community and fellow REALTORS®. He spent 22 years as a state director for Arizona Youth Football, is a founder of Basic Athletic Sports Injury Care Foundation, which provides sports injury education for youth sports coaches, and he makes monthly trips to Hermosillo, Mexico, carrying supplies of all kinds to a local church.

Groppenbacher may have the vision, but it’s his ability to lead, to inspire those around him to share his sense of altruistic urgency, that makes him such a remarkable leader. “Whenever he sees something that needs to be done, he is instrumental in leading and recruiting others to get involved,” says REALTOR® association CEO Robert W. Peirce, Jr., “His leadership style is one of collaboration.”

For Groppenbacher the highlight of his year is seeing his fellow REALTORS® come together and spend months producing the annual Stars Night, a member talent show. The evening’s proceeds provide resources for the “Hutch Fund,” a trust created to assist members in financial need.

“When we had a beloved member die and leave his wife in financial straits, we thought, ‘Why don’t we have a fund to help REALTORS® in times of personal crisis?’” Groppenbacher recalls of the impetus for starting the program in 2004.

It’s not just catastrophic life events that leave members in financial crisis these days, though. Today’s economic turmoil is leaving more members vulnerable. “We have members who are struggling,” he says. “We’ve even heard of a member who gave blood to make money.”

More members will benefit from this year’s Hutch Fund through an increased number of smaller grants to help pay medical bills, utilities, and some business expenses.

“It is this generous spirit that makes me as president proud of our association,” says Groppenbacher. “REALTORS® are more than people doing real estate transactions. We are the glue that helps the community stay together. We are the people that help make hopes and dreams come true.”

For future presidents, Groppenbacher’s advice is simple: “Be humble. Nothing gets done without others. Be a conduit bringing people together because in the end, it’s about what the group has accomplished, not about getting the glory.”

Although service without a great deal of recognition has been Groppenbacher’s hallmark style throughout his long career--he currently serves on several national, state, and local association committees—sometimes even the most humble men cannot escape notice. In May, Groppenbacher was inducted into NAR’s RPAC “Hall of Fame.”

> Beth McGeorge: Inspire by Example

At only 26 years old, Beth McGeorge has accomplished more than most REALTORS® do in a lifelong career.

She has earned the GRI, At Home with Diversity, and SRS designations; and soon will earn her CRS and Master of Real Estate certification offered by the Missouri Association of REALTORS®. She was named RE/MAX Rookie of the Year for the Mid-States Region, as well as one of Jefferson City’s “Ones to Watch,” which recognizes five young professionals as the city’s up-and-coming leaders. She is a member of the local WCR chapter and serves on the state association’s strategic action committee and task force to establish a statewide Young Professionals Network chapter.

It’s not just her list—however long and impressive—of accomplishments that makes McGeorge such an inspirational leader. It’s her magnetic, energetic personality, which has enabled her to build a rapport with community organizations, elected officials, and the media.

“People see me and believe they can get involved and make a difference,” says McGeorge. “I tell people interested in taking on a leadership role to just go for it. Don’t compare yourself to others who have served in that position before, just do the best you can since we all have unique qualities and niche areas of expertise, and that’s what makes our volunteer organization so successful.”

Like most association presidents, McGeorge is often quoted in the press and featured on television and radio segments, which can take a negative view of the local real estate market. “I went into my year as president very focused on tackling the negative media surrounding real estate,” says McGeorge. “I wanted our community to realize that all real estate is local and although we have not been without struggles in our market, we are not dealing with some of the massive issues that other areas of the country are dealing with.”

Although shaping more positive media perceptions has been rewarding, McGeorge’s most profound experience as president so far was her first trip to Washington, D.C., to take part in the NAR Hill visits. “I remember sitting in the Capitol building talking with Congressman Ike Skelton about how the economic stimulus plan and other recent changes in government are affecting the real estate market. I was thinking to myself how cool it is to bring information from the daily realities of our market all the way to the top to where decisions are made. It was amazing to see our government in action. It is an experience I will carry with me always,” she recalls.

It is that wonder, stoked by a passion and genuine belief that change is possible, that makes McGeorge’s age and relatively few years in the business an asset in her role as spokesperson for a diverse membership base. “I’ve had people say, ‘You’re a bit young to be doing this,’ but mostly there have been pats on the back and comments like, ‘I was never that focused when I was your age.’”

That’s not to say she isn’t sometimes awed by the magnitude of the responsibilities her leadership demands of her and the possibilities for effecting positive change that it affords her.

“I believe to develop character you have to step out of your comfort zone once in a while. Anytime I get that feeling of ‘fear’ in the pit of my stomach when trying something new or taking on a new challenge, I know I am growing,” she reflects.

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